Iron deficiency is a common health problem that can affect people of all ages. It causes extreme fatigue, and sometimes causes an irregular heartbeat or difficulty breathing. The most common cause of iron deficiency is a lack of iron in the diet. Other causes include intestinal disorders (such as celiac disease), blood loss, and certain medications that can interfere with iron absorption.
The best way to avoid iron deficiency is to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of foods that contain iron. Eating a variety of colorful vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help increase your iron intake. Some examples of good sources of iron include meat, eggs, fish, and fortified cereals and enriched breads.
Other ways to prevent iron deficiency include avoiding certain foods and beverages that can interfere with iron absorption, such as coffee, tea, and alcohol. You can also add vitamin C to your iron-rich diet, as this helps boost absorption.
Limiting the amount of antacids you take can also help improve iron absorption. Try to take iron tablets on an empty stomach. If possible, avoid taking antacids that relieve heartburn symptoms, which can inhibit iron absorption.
Consult a doctor or dietitian for additional support to address your iron deficiency. Your doctor can assess your iron level, recommend supplements if necessary, and provide tips on how to incorporate more iron-rich foods into your diet.
A registered dietitian can work with you to develop a plan that fits your needs and lifestyle. You may be able to find one in your area by searching the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ network of credentialed food and nutrition practitioners.
Ask your doctor about screening for iron deficiency. They can perform blood tests, including an iron test and a ferritin test. They can also check your transferrin saturation, a measure of how much of the protein transferrin is carrying your iron throughout the body.
Get tested for anemia if you’re concerned that you’re experiencing any of the following signs and symptoms:
Feeling very tired or weak after exercise.
This feeling of weakness and fatigue is often a sign of iron deficiency anemia, because the body doesn’t make enough hemoglobin, which is what allows oxygen to reach tissues and muscles. In addition, your red blood cells may become smaller and paler than normal.
Your doctor will use the results of these tests to decide what treatment is right for you. Your doctor can suggest a combination of dietary changes and iron supplements to correct your anemia, or they may recommend a blood donation procedure to replenish your iron stores.
See your doctor if you experience any of the following:
If you are pregnant or nursing, your doctor will likely suggest a regular iron supplement to ensure that you and your baby are getting the proper amount of this essential mineral. This is especially important for women who are at risk for iron deficiency anemia, including those who have had a history of menstrual bleeding or have a family history of this condition.